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Therapeutic Jurisprudence Approach to the Trial Process in Domestic Violence Felony Trials

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2003 Pages: 410-437
Date Published
April 2003
28 pages

This article describes the need for a therapeutic approach to domestic violence prosecutions.


Therapeutic jurisprudence looks at how the law can be applied in such a way as to support the psychological well being of those it affects. Clinical practice perspectives and techniques should be employed by prosecutors to enhance the well being of domestic violence victims participating in the criminal trial process against their batterers. This would address several of the challenges to prosecuting these cases. Recent reforms have taken the responsibility off the victim and made her safer because the State brings the case against the defendant, not her. This helps to alleviate the fear and ambivalence many victims have about participating in the prosecution process. But there have been some unanticipated negative effects, such as the disempowerment of the victims and discrediting the victim’s testimony during trial through character evidence. Prosecutors can play an important role in creating a therapeutic effect for victims by empowering them through the trial process. For this to happen, prosecutors need to rethink the role of their relationship to the victim. This can be achieved through a victim-centered model of prosecution that includes collaboration, participation, and communication between the prosecutor and victim. Empowering interventions include creating relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and shared power and recognizing individuals’ abilities to know what they need and to choose adequate solutions for themselves. A victim/client-centered therapeutic approach to the trial process would involve attention to several stages of the trial process: preparations for trial; the pretrial motions to limit victim character evidence and introduce “other acts” evidence; and the prosecutor’s direct and cross-examination of witnesses during the actual trial. Allowing victims to describe the context of the violence and rehabilitating their character after a defense attack are essential to giving voice to and empowering women through the process. In turn, an empowered victim may be a much more effective witness for the prosecution. 3 notes, 46 references

Date Published: April 1, 2003